Eric Jenkins returns to starting lineup as key piece in the secondary

Eric Jenkins returns to starting lineup as key piece in the secondary

Eric Jenkins returns to starting lineup as key piece in the secondary
October 11
22:55 2017

Eric Jenkins was never bored growing up in New Orleans, Louisiana with his four sisters and three brothers. Whether it was playing sports or just having someone to talk to all the time, he always had family there for him. With 16 years separating the oldest sibling from the youngest, Jenkins was close to the middle, forcing him to be patient with such a large family growing up.

He also endured experiences that taught him to be smart and focused. Being raised in New Orleans, Jenkins always had to be aware of his surroundings.

“I basically grew up in the projects,” Jenkins said. “It was so hectic. A lot of guys don’t make it out, and a lot of guys don’t go to college at all. It’s a very rough and dangerous city.”

Once he committed to Louisiana Valley College to play football, Jenkins became the first of his mother’s children to attend college. But he would not settle for staying in Louisiana and going to a small or local school at the junior college level.

In his two seasons at Louisiana Valley, Jenkins accumulated 54 tackles and nine interceptions and finished his tenure ranked as the No. 9 JuCo cornerback in the country. That put him in position to depart for UNT.

His mother and some of his siblings moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area around two years ago when Jenkins came to Denton for school. They are still a prominent piece in his life and have been since he was a kid.

“I talk to them everyday,” Jenkins said. “They help me with everything, talking to me and keeping me level headed on the field, in the classroom and in life in general.”

In his first season donning the green and white in 2016, Jenkins quickly earned an All-Conference USA honorable mention distinction for his breakout junior year with the Mean Green. He began the season on the bench, but eventually started five games and appeared in six more. Jenkins picked off three passes, two of which he took back for touchdowns while also leading the team in pass breakups (10).

His accomplishments led most to believe he would be a surefire starter opposite junior Nate Brooks heading into the 2017 season. But that wasn’t the case as he again found himself coming off the bench to open the year.

The adversity was nothing new for a kid who grew up in one of the toughest cities in the country.

“I went through the same adversity last year,” Jenkins said. “Once I got in the situation again I knew how to overcome it. I just stay focused and continue to excel in practice and receive the instructions the coaches give me.”

Jenkins’ focus has been one of his strongest traits. His experiences in life have built that up and have translated from the streets of New Orleans to the grass at the Darrell R. Dickey practice field next to Apogee Stadium.

“You could get caught up in trouble really easily,” Jenkins said of his home neighborhood. “You have to stay on a narrow path so you won’t get mixed up with those type of people. Growing up in an environment like that, it’s easy for me [now] to avoid trouble.”

So far, he’s stayed on that path without wavering in his time at North Texas – regardless of his playing time or the situation. Five games into the season, it has resulted in another return to the starting lineup. After initially losing his spot to newcomer Kemon Hall, Jenkins leaped Brooks on the depth chart after the junior struggled out of the gate.

“When it’s your turn you have to be ready to go in there and make plays, and he’s done that,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “He’s kept his head in it. He’s been a great teammate. He’s continued to work hard and his work has paid off.”

In practice, sophomore wide receiver Jalen Guyton occasionally finds Jenkins and tells him to come cover him in their drills. The repetitions between one of the most explosive receivers on the team and the senior cornerback make for great competition and benefit both in game situations.

The competition is part of what’s made Jenkins better throughout the year as he prepares for his second consecutive start Saturday night.

“I look him in the eye, he looks me in the eye and we know it’s going down,” Guyton said. “One-on-ones or anything because I want that work and he wants that work too. It’s that iron sharpens iron type mindset, that’s when you start elevating as a team.”

Jenkins play has certainly elevated the effectiveness of the North Texas secondary, as he came up big late in a 46-43 win over the University of Alabama at Birmingham before getting a starting nod in the 43-28 win over the University of Southern Mississippi.

For senior safety Kishawn McClain, Jenkins’ instincts and his ability to find, adjust and make a play on the ball are what contribute to him being an effective player for the defense once again.

“He’s a great talent,” McClain said. “He can move his feet and I feel like he has the best ball skills in the secondary. He plays the ball well when it’s in the air. He’s a very aggressive corner.”

While the NFL is the dream for most players at the Division 1 level, Jenkins is aware of his opportunities now that he is prepared to graduate in two months.

But first, his mind is on shutting down opposing receivers from UTSA and any team left on North Texas’ schedule. He didn’t get here by skipping steps.

“[Right now,] my goal is just to help my team win,” Jenkins said. “[Once I graduate] I’m going to take my degree and put it to work if I don’t get a shot at the pros. So I have something to fall back on.”

Featured Image: Eric Jenkins waits for the ball to be snapped against the University of Southern Mississippi. Courtesy | Mean Green Athletics

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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1 Comment

  1. Dut
    Dut October 16, 19:37

    🔥🔥🔥🔥💯💪🏿

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